An awful day for Najib and BN

Commentary by Wan Hamidi Hamid (The Malaysian Insider)

JAN 17 — It was a horrible blow for Datuk Seri Najib Razak. The prime minister-in-waiting has now lost two by-elections in less than five months.

Both the by-election results saw higher majority votes for the federal opposition.

Najib did his best for his beloved Barisan Nasional in the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election. Yet the voters in the BN stronghold decided to vote for Umno's arch enemy Pas.

He made many promises, granted many projects and offered a lot of goodies, and yet the voters rejected BN.

Is this a bad omen or merely another "minor" setback for the deputy prime minister who has a tough task ahead of him to take over from Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi this March?

Throughout the 11-day campaign period, Najib had worked diligently to ensure victory for BN candidate Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh. According to journalists covering the by-election, he was one of the hardest working campaigners for the federal ruling coalition.

If it was not his fault, would BN leaders blame the voters? It may not be a smart idea to do so. After all, Terengganu voters were among those who helped BN increased its votes in the state when the political tsunami hit the country on March 8 last year.

What does the result mean for Umno and BN?

Besides the expected morose look on the faces of BN leaders tomorrow, the coalition's backbone Umno will also face yet another question on its actual strength to bring the Malays back to its fold.

This dreaded question — is Umno still relevant — will continue to haunt its leaders. Since Abdullah is set to leave the political arena, Najib has to inherit all the misgivings and wrong perception brought about by his soon-to-be predecessor.

If Umno persists in blaming others in its post-mortem of the by-election, it would simply mean it does not want to address the root cause of the problem; and would further damage the image of the party.

Worse still, Umno will continue to lose its battle against perception of elitism, ignoring the people and too concerned with its own personal interests.

Yet in a more negative way, it can also push certain party leaders — particularly those entering the race for party posts in March — to be more insular and parochial in their racial approach to win the hearts and minds of their own supporters.

This could mean a more divided Malaysia. Unless the Pakatan Rakyat is willing to step in to provide a real alternative.

Pas candidate Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut's victory was a second coming for Pakatan; the much-need shot in the arm for the loose coalition, after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's official political comeback five months ago when he regained his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat.

Pas's victory will also wipe away any possibility of the party trying to be friendly with Umno, despite the efforts by some of its top leaders almost a year ago. This will bring the party a new sense of confidence.

Other Pakatan partners — Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP — are already jumping for joy. Not only are they celebrating their partner's victory, this is also the time for them to regroup for the next general election.

While the post-mortem on both sides will reveal the actual turn of events and provide more details, it can be safely deduced that most Chinese voters opted for Pas while there was a swing among Malay voters for Pas.

It was the Malay votes that had got Umno so worried and the damage had been done in Kuala Terengganu. Just like a football game, losing on your home turf will certainly have a deep psychological impact.